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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The past ten years or so have seen an absolute glut of media in the zombie-horror subgenre. Everything from The Walking Dead (in graphic novel, television, and video game format) to World War Z (in novel and in upcoming Brad Pitt movie format) to the continued existence of the Resident Evil franchise (across film and video games) has absolutely assaulted the senses of a zombie-hungry populace across the globe. Where the genre was once unique and satirical in subtext, it is now filled with the wish-fulfillment of adolescents who crave an apocalypse they don’t realize they could ever survive.
Enter Warm Bodies, a slight comedy/action/horror/romance mash-up that centers around young zombie R (played by Nicholas Hoult, in a performance that somewhat alters my appreciation of his acting toward the positive), a living dead dude with a taste for vinyl, snow globes, and a young female survivor named Julie (Teresa Palmer, also good in her role). When Julie and a young group of scavengers are mercilessly attacked and mostly slaughtered by R and his zombie pals, something inside R’s ravaged body changes, and he feels the need to protect Julie from the other zombies. Eventually, his affection swells to the point where he becomes more and more articulate, less dependent on brains, and begins to regain the humanity he lost after the zombie apocalypse devastated society.
The story of a zombie falling for a human isn’t something explored in most zombie media, and indeed the recipe does help the stale sub-genre feel somewhat fresh. Levine, director of such fare as The Wackness and 50/50, mines somewhat similar territory throughout this film, bringing his “indie-isms” to the movie, for better and for worse. The funny places in Warm Bodies, largely covered in the trailers, come few and far between, but are appreciated when they do happen. Rob Corddry, playing R’s best zombie pal M, is fairly funny in his role, and a welcomed presence in the film. Less successful is the integration of the “bonies,” they being the zombies who have sloughed off the last shreds of their humanity and have gone full feral. The creatures are meant to be terrifying, but Warm Bodies doesn’t really do that great a job of being scary when it needs to.
One of the biggest disappointments in this film is the world-building, something I greatly enjoy in zombie media when done well. In George Romero’s Land of the Dead, the film really conveyed a “lived-in” feel. While I don’t really like that movie too much, I did appreciate the effective scenery as well as the politics the film espoused. In Warm Bodies, the only real sense we get of this is in John Malkovich’s performance as General Grigio, which can best be described as underwhelming and under-written. Grigio, who is also Julie’s father, is the clichéd no-nonsense military guy these films often have. The character’s realization at the end of the film is a bit of a cop-out, and while Malkovich is fine as Grigio, he somewhat under-commits to the role. The world around Warm Bodies isn’t really fleshed out that well, and there’s never really any sense of immediacy or danger for our main characters, outside of that opening attack.
Ultimately, Warm Bodies is an amusing trifle that falls just short being a good movie. It is entertaining in places, but really nothing more than an afternoon diversion. Its overall lack of distinction or flair, and its inability to successfully blend horror, action, comedy and romance is what makes it somewhat unique, but it is also what detracts from the final product. Though the lead performances, particularly Palmer and Hoult, are rather winning and their chemistry is apparent, the film never really adds up to all that much and its ending is somewhat of a cop-out. Check it out, but keep your expectations slight.